2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

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Updated 01 January 2022

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

  • Many Saudis are experiencing home-grown arts, culture and sporting events for the first time ever 
  • After the delays and closures of the pandemic, the entertainment calendar is packed once more 

RIYADH: For around 30 years, entertainment venues, from cinemas to concert halls, were bolted shut across Saudi Arabia, depriving citizens and visitors of outlets to enjoy cultural, sporting and artistic activities in public 

All that began to change in 2016 with the establishment of the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Kingdom’s wide-ranging social and economic reform agenda, Vision 2030.

Five years on, the thirst for entertainment in Saudi Arabia is plain to see. In the space of just two months, up to 8 million people have taken part in Riyadh Season 2021 — a cultural extravaganza that was unheard of just half a decade ago.




Boys wave national flags during celebrations in Riyadh marking Saudi Arabia's National Day on Sept. 23, 2020. (AFP)

The General Entertainment Authority was established to help drive ahead the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, allowing it to become a global leader in the creative, leisure, tourism and hi-tech industries.

Now, Saudi citizens and international visitors, no matter their level of income, can enjoy a whole host of entertainment options previously denied to them, improving their quality of life and the Kingdom’s appeal as a work and investment destination.




Entrepreneurs offer camel rides in AlUla. (AN file photo)

Within just five years, the GEA has issued 2,189 licenses and 1,809 permits allowing more than 2,500 companies to launch home-grown entertainment ventures. The sector has already created more than $1 billion in profits and attracted over 75 million visitors.

Although Saudi Arabia’s entertainment revolution suffered setbacks in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events suspended, venues closed, and international travel barred for several months, the cultural calendar returned with a bang in 2021. Much is still to come.




Saudi fans mob a wrestling star during a WWE event in Jeddah. (Supplied)

For a whole generation of young Saudis, this will be another year of firsts.

Until the late 1980s, Saudi cities enjoyed a flourishing artistic movement that offered the public a wide variety of entertainment options. However, this came to an end in the early 1990s.




Saudi fans attend the "MDL Beast Fest", an electronic music festival, held in Banban on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 19, 2019. (AFP file)

For a time, just two music festivals took place per year — one at the Muftaha Theater in Abha, and another at Jeddah’s Summer Concerts — until these too were stopped. The last open concert in Riyadh took place in 1992 during Al-Janadriyah festival.

FASTFACTS

2016 General Entertainment Authority established.

2017 First public concerts in nearly three decades.

2018 35-year ban on public cinemas finally lifted.

2018 Kingdom’s first ever Diriyah E-Prix.

2019 Launch of Saudi Seasons initiative.

The silence was broken in March 2017 with the Kingdom’s first public concert in nearly three decades. Although attendance was limited to men only, tickets for the performance by Saudi artists Mohammed Abdu and Rashid Al-Majed sold out immediately.




The Cairo Opera House's National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) perform at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in Riyadh on April 25, 2018. (AFP)

Later that year, Saudi Arabia hosted its first public performance by a female artist. Lebanese singer Heba Tawaji performed on stage at the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh to an exclusively female audience of 3,000.

During the same year, Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. In a tweet before his arrival in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We are going to be experiencing history in the making and I would not miss it for anything in the world! First stop Jeddah! ...Yanni.”




Participants at work during the Formula E race in Diriyah, Riyadh. (AFP)

The following year saw the launch of Ad Diriyah concerts, with several performances held on the sidelines of the Kingdom’s biggest event — the Formula E race in Diriyah — including an unforgettable show by French DJ David Guetta.

“That concert was magical. I loved every second of it,” music fan Eithar Alshadukhi told Arab News at the time. “David Guetta’s songs are amazing, but when he created a special piece for Saudi Arabia, it blew me away.”




Mariah Carey performing in Jeddah in 2019. (AN file photo)

In 2019, American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey performed in Jeddah, making her the highest-profile international artist to perform in the Kingdom since the easing of restrictions on entertainment.

During the same year, K-Pop boy band BTS became the first foreign artists to play a solo stadium show in Saudi Arabia before an audience of over 60,000 at the King Fahd International Stadium.




Music concerts blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. (Supplied)

Music concerts are not the only field of entertainment that has blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. Intensely proud of its heritage and natural beauty, the Kingdom has invested heavily in promoting leisure and tourism activities in its coastal, mountain and desert regions.

In the process, Saudi Arabia has broken several Guinness World Records, including a 2020 record for the largest hot air balloon glow show over the ancient city of AlUla, with 100 balloons spread across 3 km of sky.




Hot air balloon festival in the ancient city of AlUla. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Season 2021 also received two Guinness World Record certificates for “Avalanche.” With 24 lanes reaching a record height of more than 22 meters, it was recognized as both the world’s tallest fun slide and the one with the most lanes.

INNUMBERS

2,500 Companies licensed by General Entertainment Authority.

$1bn Saudi entertainment industry profits over past 5 years.

75m Visitors to recent Saudi-hosted events and activities.

Another area of entertainment that has boomed over the past five years is the film industry. In 2018, the 35-year ban on public cinemas was finally lifted, spurring the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi” — the first nationally owned and operated cinema in Saudi Arabia — first in Jeddah then throughout the Kingdom.




The lifting in 2018 of a 35-year ban on public cinemas has spurred the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi”. (Supplied)

In 2019, the Red Sea International Film Festival was launched, bringing together Saudi and international filmmakers, actors, and industry professionals to celebrate cinema and the world’s greatest on-screen talent.

The festival’s ambitious mandate is to develop and promote the film industry in Saudi Arabia, discover raw regional talent, and support a new wave of cinema worldwide.




The opening of the Kingdom's entertainment industry has spurred interest in filmmaking and acting. (File photo)

To preserve and promote Saudi Arabia’s rich and unique culture, while also boosting the domestic and international tourism market, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 to high acclaim.

Festivals have taken place in Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province, Taif, AlUla, Ad Diriyah, and elsewhere, celebrating the Kingdom’s diverse local crafts and traditions, while also creating jobs for young Saudis.




Hundreds of resorts have sprung up across Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom opened its tourism industry a few years back. (SPA)

Tourism is one area Saudi Arabia is especially eager to promote with the launch of its Saudi e-visa in 2019. The Kingdom expects to have hosted 100 million tourists by 2030, drawn by a mixture of new luxury resorts on its coastline, educational outings among its spectacular ancient ruins, and adventure activities in its vast deserts and lush mountains.

So much has already been achieved in the Kingdom’s leisure and entertainment industries since reforms began just five years ago. No doubt 2022 will be another year of firsts on the road to 2030.


Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi Arabia launches ‘Nusuk’ platform to facilitate pilgrims visiting Makkah, Madinah

  • Nusuk will organize the entire process, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights
  • Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a new unified government platform on Monday through which pilgrims can plan and book their visits to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

With Nusuk, travelers from all over the world can easily organize their entire visit to the Kingdom, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights.

The platform provides a wide range of services and information for pilgrims and visitors that enable them to perform their Umrah rituals easily. It is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives to better the quality of services provided and enrich the religious and cultural experience of pilgrims.

Nusuk is being launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority, and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website “Visit Saudi Arabia” with the aim of enriching pilgrim experiences and facilitating reservation and communication procedures to provide them with various packages and programs.

Those wishing to perform Umrah will be able to use Nusuk to obtain the necessary visas and permits and book packages and programs electronically.

A range of other services will be added to the platform at a later stage and these will include interactive maps, a calendar for offers and activities, a digital instruction guide in several languages, and health information and services.

The Maqam platform will continue to operate until all services are transferred to Nusuk at a later stage.

The Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah explained that the Nusuk platform is an extension of continuous efforts to improve the quality of services provided to pilgrims using the latest technology.

He added that the platform is a result of several government agencies coming together to facilitate pilgrim procedures with the aim of enriching their spiritual journey.


Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi FM: Yemen truce ‘must be extended’ but signs not positive

  • ‘The indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate’: Prince Faisal bin Farhan
  • ‘We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict, but if we have to defend ourselves we will’

RIYADH: The truce in Yemen must be extended, but the actions of the Houthi militia seem to indicate they do not want to lengthen the ceasefire beyond its expiry, the Saudi foreign minister said on Friday.

“We think it must be extended. However, the signs are not positive at this point,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan. “Unfortunately, the indications we are seeing from the Houthis are that they do not intend to cooperate in an extension.”

He said the Iran-backed militia had failed to fulfil the commitments of the current agreement, and have now put forward demands that are unreasonable.

“I am very concerned by these developments because we will lose the momentum,” he added. “We are fully engaged with the UN representative and with others who are trying to convince the Houthis to extend the truce. Right now, the indications are worrying.”

A truce between the Houthis and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen was brokered by the UN in April and is set to end on Oct. 2. 

The truce has brought a semblance of normality for Yemenis, and has enabled the government to begin providing more services to the public.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, chairman of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, said diplomacy has been wasted on the Houthis, who have repeatedly disregarded their treaty commitments.

Prince Faisal said the truce had created the possibility for wider peace in Yemen. “We have an opportunity here to build on a truce to work towards a permanent ceasefire, towards political dialogue. It is hard for me to understand why the Houthis would turn this down,” he said, adding that the militia’s proposals indicate “that they are looking for an excuse.”

The build-up of armaments as well as probing attacks on the frontlines by Houthi fighters indicate that they are seriously considering not renewing the truce, he told France 24 in New York.

When asked if war was back on the horizon in Yemen, he said: “Unfortunately, this seems to be what the Houthis want.”

The foreign minister reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, but said his country will do what is needed to defend its people if the Houthis return to hostilities.

“We are of course committed to a resolution of this conflict. We are committed primarily to a truce but, of course, if we have to defend ourselves we will,” he said.

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Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi crown prince, US officials discuss energy security

  • US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US officials discussed energy security on Friday.

Brett McGurk, US National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, and Amos Hochstein, senior advisor for energy security, met the crown prince in Jeddah.
They also discussed “investment in the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They and US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking also discussed the latest developments in Yemen.
The US officials thanked the crown prince for his mediation efforts that resulted in the release of two Americans captured by Russia during the war in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, mediation sponsored by the crown prince led to the release of 10 prisoners from various countries as part of an exchange of captives.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the mediation was part of the crown prince’s efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives toward the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan confirmed on Friday that the crown prince had engaged directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the prisoners’ release.


Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

Updated 23 September 2022

Saudi Arabia celebrates National Day with arts, theater, air shows and music

  • Traditional dress encouraged for music, folklore shows
  • Popular local and Arab singers to perform live

The marking of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day comes at a momentous time in the nation’s history because of its remarkable journey of transformation and development.

Citizens and residents alike will be celebrating over the course of the week to come, with events paying homage to the Kingdom’s heritage, art and culture.

Riyadh

Riyadh is set to celebrate Saudi National Day with a range of events and activities including music, theater and a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show.

Night view of the national capital, Riyadh. (SPA)

In preparation, the capital city’s main roads have been bedecked with hundreds of green national flags.

The sky will light up with fireworks in front of Al-Thaghr Plaza on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will have an acrobatics display with jets and civilian aircraft that can be viewed from Um Ajlan Park on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Royal Guard will conduct a parade at Riyadh Front to the tune of the national anthem played by a military band, ahead of a procession of classic cars on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Admission is free to the fireworks display, airshow and Royal Guard parade.

The Saudi Hawks rehearse for the 92nd Saudi National Day celebrations in Riyadh. (SPA)

In addition, Jump Saudi will host a two-day showjumping competition. Tickets are SR57.50 ($15.30) and can be obtained online through Riyadh Platinum or Enjoy Saudi via the General Entertainment Authority website. The event will take place on Sept. 22 and 23 from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

This year, the national circus is presenting a specially designed Cirque du Soleil show entitled “The Wealth of a Nation” at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University theater from Sept. 21 to 24 from 8 p.m. to 12 midnight.

Arab musicians Ahlam and Abady Al-Johar will perform on Sept. 23 at Abo Baker Salim stage from 9 p.m. to 12 midnight.

The Ministry of Interior is organizing its own festivities under the slogan “The Pride of The Nation” at Riyadh Front from Sept. 21 to 24. The event will also feature a live orchestra and 12 interactive pavilions.

A festival will be held at the Diplomatic Quarter’s Grassy Park from Sept. 21 to 24, which will include heritage shows, handicrafts displays, a dancing fountain, action games for children and food stalls.

The AMC-2 theater auditorium is set to feature a live 90-minute stand-up comedy show on Sept. 22 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with three international acts alongside a Saudi performer.

Jeddah

The General Entertainment Authority has organized several events for Jeddah’s citizens and residents to mark the country’s 92nd National Day celebrations, including fireworks, air and marine military shows, music concerts, and interactive festivals.

The city’s coastline will be lit up with a massive, seven-minute fireworks show on Sept. 23 at the Jeddah Season carpark area, which is expected to be seen from any location in the city. This show will coincide with 17 other similar displays around the country.

For three days, from Sept. 18 to 20, Jeddah residents can enjoy an airshow near the Hilton Hotel on the corniche, beginning from 4:30 p.m. This will also be the location for a marine show on Sept. 23.

Jeddawis can also enjoy a military parade at 5 p.m. on national day organized by the Ministry of Interior at the Jeddah Art Promenade. The venue will also see fireworks displays from 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade area will feature a light-and-sound display on Sept. 23. There will also be a Saudi folklore show from 6 p.m. to midnight on Sept. 22, 23 and 24. Moreover, there will be “Layali Watan” events and activities held over the same period.

In addition, the Jeddah Art Promenade will feature a Mosaic Wall with various pieces of art on Sept. 22, 23 and 24, showcasing the history of the Kingdom.

The promenade will also have a National Day Corner, with a Photography Kiosk and an exclusive show for children on Sept. 22, 23 and 24.

The venue will have several music concerts, with Saud Sanan performing on Thursday Sept. 23, female singer Dukhuon on the same day, and Ahmed Ashour on Sept. 24.

Egyptian singer Angham and her compatriot Ahmed Saad will perform at Benchmark Theatre on King’s Road at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 24. According to the Ticketing Box Office website, all VVIP tickets have been sold.

There will also be festivals held from 5 p.m. to midnight at the city’s Prince Majed Park, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Eastern Province

The Eastern Province has a series of fun events for all ages to celebrate the Kingdom’s 92nd National Day including live performances, fireworks, and marine and air shows.

King Abdullah Park in Dammam is set to host a four-day celebration from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight, featuring a variety of festivities including folkloric dances and fountain shows.

During the celebrations, performers will roam through the park dressed in traditional attire. There will be several action games and giveaways for families. The event is free and open to children of all ages.

Families are encouraged to dress up in traditional attire for the events throughout the week.

Dammam will host the annual fireworks show that will be visible from the corniche on Sept. 23 from 9 p.m. Admission is free and open to all ages.

Eighteen cities across the Kingdom will feature fireworks displays simultaneously with Dammam including Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha, Tabuk and Al-Ahsa.

Nearby Alkhobar will also be hosting a marine show led by the Royal Naval Forces. The show will take place on Sept. 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the corniche.

Following the marine show, the corniche seafront will hold an airshow from Sept. 25 to 26 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In addition, King Abdullah Cultural Center in Jubail will hold live concerts featuring some of the most popular regional performers including Moudi Alshamrani, Sultan Khalifa, Shamma Hamdan and Khadijah Moath, from Sept. 21 to 24.

Children will not be allowed to attend the concerts. Tickets are available on the Enjoy Saudi website.

Southern and Northern regions

The southern and northern regions of the Kingdom are preparing to celebrate the 92nd National Day on Sept. 23 with various shows and concerts including “A Homeland Salute” by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

On Sept. 23 from 9 p.m., a massive five-minute fireworks display will be held across several cities.

In Jouf, north of the Kingdom, Sakaka’s residents will be able to gather at King Abdullah Cultural Center to watch the show.

In the Northern Borders region, spectators in Arar can see it at the city’s Water Tower Park.

In the southwest, it can be enjoyed in Al-Nahdah district in Najran, while in Abha in Asir they can do so at Sama Abha Park.

The activities include air and marine shows.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will perform for 10 days with Typhoon, F-15, Tornado, and F-15C fighter jets across 14 cities. The show is titled “A Homeland Salute,” to celebrate the country’s achievements under its leadership.

In Abha, the airshow will be held at Abha Airport Park on Sept. 22 and 23 at 5:30 p.m.

Various festivals with folklore dances, games and handicrafts will be held at several public parks from Sept. 21 to 24 from 5 p.m. to midnight.

People in the north can celebrate at Al-Nakheel Park in Sakaka, and in Al-Refa District in Arar.

Those commemorating the day in the south can participate at Sama Abha Park in Abha, and Aba Al-Rashash Park in Najran.

Prominent artists are set to perform on the occasion. In Abha, a concert by Mohamed Abdo, led by Maestro Walid Fayed, will be held at Talal Maddah Theatre on Sept. 24.


Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

Updated 22 September 2022

Saudi, Indonesian ministers discuss trade relations

BALI: Saudi Commerce Minister Majid Al-Qasabi met Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulkifli Hasan on Thursday on the sidelines of the G-20 trade, investment and industry working group meeting in Bali.

The two sides agreed on a road map, with periodic follow-ups, for boosting trade exchanges between the two countries, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ministers also discussed ways to enhance and support the business sector to aid the development of trade relations, and ways to take advantage of the opportunities available in the two countries and turn them into tangible partnerships.